David P. Steensma, MD
For many students, it is a fusion of aesthetic appreciation and intellectual curiosity about blood that first draws them toward a career in hematology. The beautiful color palette filling the cells of a well-stained blood smear and the abundant scientific and clinical insights such smears can provide make for a seductive combination. And just as knowledge of the science of astronomy can impart a new grandeur to the night sky, greater understanding of the mechanistic complexity of colorful blood cells increases their fascination.
Today at 9:30 a.m. and again at 2:00 p.m. in Room 303–305–307 – South, the only ASH Scientific Committee session with a title cribbed from 17th century English literature, “Why Our Blood Is Red” (a line from “Of The Progress Of The Soul,” published in 1612 by the great Jacobean metaphysical poet John Donne), will take place. This program will focus on some of the newer details of iron biology, which continues to be a vibrant field more than five decades after the first ferrokinetic studies were performed.
The ASH annual meeting Scientific Program was organized by Dr. Leonard Zon, of Children’s Hospital in Boston, whose research group has a penchant for naming zebrafish lines after wines, especially when their anemic blood makes the fish look more like a pale chardonnay than a rich Tuscan brunello. Dr. J. Evan Sadler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis whose work focuses on structure and function of hemostatic proteins, shared Scientific Program chairman’s duties with Dr. Zon.
The first speaker and chairman of the “Why Our Blood Is Red” program is Dr. Prem Ponka, of Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research in Montreal. Dr. Ponka will discuss emerging data on how iron is trafficked in erythrocytes and is ultimately incorporated into hemoglobin. The rest of the session will highlight the biological role of mitochondrial ferritin (mitoferrin), a recently discovered essential iron transporter that is encoded by an intronless gene, and which was first identified in a zebra-fish model named frascati (after an Italian white wine made from Trebbiano, Greco, and Malvasia grapes). Dr. Barry Paw from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dr. Sonia Levi of San Raffaele University in Milan will discuss the continued mysteries of mitochondrial ferritin and some new insights into intracellular iron distribution.
This session will describe the subtleties of iron, which gives human blood its peculiar brick-red hue. But it might have been otherwise, which begs the question: Why isn’t our blood green like Mr. Spock’s? ASH News Daily has it on good authority that Vulcan blood uses copper in its oxygen transport protein. Yet, therein lies a mystery: The hemocyanin-filled molluscs that meeting attendees will enjoy eating at various Bay Area restaurants this week also have copper-based respiratory pigments, but their blood equivalent is blue; sea squirts and tunicates have vanadium-containing proteins that change their body fluids from apple green to rusty orange.
For now, the secret of Spock’s blood remains intact. But if the first Human:Vulcan contact occurs in 2063, as predicted by the “Star Trek” canon, new data should be ready in time for presentation in the Exohematology Scientific Session at the 100th ASH Annual Meeting in 2068.
Dr. Steensma indicated no relevant conflicts of interest.
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